Catholic leaders, including Pope Francis, mourned this week for Los Angeles Auxiliary Bishop David O’Connell who was murdered in his home in February.
During three days of memorial services that began Wednesday, friends, family and church leaders remembered the 69-year-old bishop as a man who dedicated his life to serving mothers and unborn babies, the poor and immigrants in inner city Los Angeles for decades.
On Wednesday, a message from Pope Francis was read during the memorial Mass at St. John Vianney Catholic Church in Hacienda Heights, the Catholic News Agency reports.
O’Connell had a “profound concern for the poor, immigrants, and those in need; his efforts to uphold the sanctity and dignity of God’s gift of life; and his zeal for fostering solidarity, cooperation, and peace within the local community,” the pope’s message read.
“In commending the late bishop’s soul to the love and mercy of Christ the Good Shepherd, His Holiness prays that all who honor his memory will be confirmed in the resolve to reject the ways of violence and overcome evil with good,” the message continued.
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Monsignor Timothy Dyer, the priest of St. Patrick Catholic Church in Los Angeles, said O’Connell was a man of both prayer and action.
“When the bullets were being fired, Christ was looking Dave right in the eyes, and he said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You may lay down the nets now, Dave. I’ve prepared a place for you in the Father’s house,’” Dyer said.
Here’s more from the report:
O’Connell was passionate about standing up for immigrants, standing against racism, and standing up for the unborn and women, Dyer said.
“You could not pigeonhole him. If you wanted to put him up on your banner and let him be your patron for your particular cause, you could only do it if you embraced all of the things that he embraced, and all of the places he fished because it was an ethic of life from beginning to end,” he said.
His younger brother, Kieran O’Connell, also spoke Wednesday about their family’s gratitude for the overwhelming sympathy and support as they mourn his brother’s violent death. He remembered how “the proudest moment for our family and for the whole community [was] when he said his first Mass in our local parish church,” according to the report.
Memorial services continued Thursday and Friday.
Last week, Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascón said a deacon found O’Connell dead in his bed Feb. 18 in Hacienda Heights, and emergency responders discovered several gunshot wounds in his upper body.
Gascón said Carlos Medina, 65, of Torrance, the husband of a housekeeper who worked at O’Connell’s residence, confessed to murdering the bishop. He did not mention a possible motive.
O’Connell, 69, was known as a strong pro-life advocate who participated in 40 Days for Life and served the most vulnerable in Los Angeles for decades. He spent most of his 45 years as a priest and bishop ministering to the poor, victims of gang violence and immigrants in the inner city, according to the archdiocese.
Los Angeles Archbishop José Gomez described O’Connell as “a peacemaker with a heart for the poor and the immigrant.” Gomez said the bishop, an immigrant from Ireland, “had a passion for building a community where the sanctity and dignity of every human life was honored and protected.”
Some Catholic leaders wondered if his murder may be linked to the growing violence toward Christians across the world.
“It’s hard not to wonder if this tragic incident likewise involves hostility to Catholic beliefs and those who live out the faith in public life – including our clergy,” Brian Burch of CatholicVote responded in February. “… Anti-Catholic hatred is not slowing. It’s in the culture, the politics, and the failure of our leaders to defend and promote the rights of believers.”
Burch said he hopes and prays his suspicions are wrong about the motive. He urged people to pray for the perpetrator, adding, “The taking of an innocent life by violence is a grievous crime no matter the motive or the identity of the perpetrator.”
The crime coincides with a rise in violent attacks on Christians across the world. Attacks on Christian churches in the United States have almost tripled in the past four years, according to a December report from the Family Research Council. The conservative organization documented 420 acts of hostility against 397 different churches between January 2018 and September 2022, including shootings, bomb threats, arson, assaults and vandalism. Coinciding with a rise in violence against pro-life organizations, 57 of the church attacks in 2022 were attributed to pro-abortion motives, the organization found.
Pro-life organizations, many of them run by Christians, also have been growing targets, with approximately 250 attacks in 2022, including the shooting of an elderly pro-life woman in Michigan and an abortion activist who allegedly tried to burn a police officer with a makeshift flamethrower during a protest in Los Angeles.